Magnificent meadows should be celebrated

Wild ox-eye daisies

Wild ox-eye daisies

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The Sheffield area boasts some of the finest urban and urban-fringe wildflower meadows, perhaps even in Europe. The late Dr Oliver Gilbert, formerly of Sheffield University’s Landscape Department, rated Gleadless Valley’s meadows as the best in any of Europe’s cities. Oliver was one of the founders of the science of urban ecology and a great champion of urban nature conservation. Today you can visit areas in Graves Park, where he and I worked on zoning the meadows to allow the wildflowers to thrive; and they have been remarkably successful. Along with a free wildlife spectacular of summer colours, textures and fragrance, the meadows hum with the noise of innumerable pollinating insects such as hoverflies and bees. During the daytime, butterflies are drawn to the wonderful habitats, and at night, they are the haunts of moths and consequently of feeding bats. These flower-rich sites vary depending on their soils and locations, and on their history of management and consequently display varying mixes of flowers and flowering times. The earliest meadows may be in flower from the middle of spring and then a succession of types can be with us until the late autumn. Sadly, their abundance has declined over the last 60 or 70 years, and especially so in the 1970s and 1980s. Direct habitat destruction has decreased in recent decades, though this may simply be because fewer meadows remain. However, over the same period the insidious threat of neglect and abandonment and the ending of traditional management has become a serious problem. Where native wildflower grasslands such as meadows and ancient pastures survive, a conservation priority is firstly to protect them and then to get the management right. Other good examples can be found in Gleadless Valley, Beauchief, Woodhouse Washlands Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve, and Shire Brook Valley Local Nature Reserve. Unfortunately, at the most important site in the latter, a 20-year recovery project was badly damaged and several rare plants became extinct when the city council, under pressure from Natural England, changed the management regime. Amazing but true, public money was used to accidentally destroy the conservation interest.

To see good management join the Gleadless Valley Wildlife Trust this Sunday, June 29 for their annual Meadow Walk through some of Europe’s finest urban wildflower meadows in this fantastic Local Nature Reserve. The walk is suitable for all ages and most levels of activity and is from 10.30-1pm, meeting at The Best One Shop on Leighton Road. Their invitation says ‘Join us for a walk through the beautiful ancient meadows of the Valley. We can help you to identify flowers, insects and birds.’

n Sightings: Red kites have been spotted in the Peak District with two flying westwards over Peter Dale. At Thrybergh Country Park, both great crested grebes and little grebes have done well with adults with young in attendance and on the nest. Both great spotted woodpeckers and green woodpeckers seem to be vocal, with for example, green calling at Grenoside and Wheata Wood, and great spotted ‘chipping’ at Norton, in Whirlow Park, and in Graves Park. Nuthatches have also been calling loudly in suitable habitats. A ring-necked parakeet was at Wharncliffe Side, the first one I have heard of for a while.

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